Over the course of any given day, I tend to do research on a broad variety of topics, from the paranormal to the sciences.
I noticed an overarching theme in most of the civil rights movements out there. That would be terminology. More specifically, it’s what people prefer to be called in regards to the issue at hand.
As I was combing the net for web pages and blogs by folks with learning disabilities for others with similar problems, I came across a comment arguing with the way one of the administrators identified themselves as autistic. The commenter had said that she should refer to herself as “a person with autism” instead of “autistic”.
The administrator simply told the commenter that each individual can refer to themselves in whatever way they please. This is the stance I tend to hold.
The argument against saying “dyslexic” or “autistic” is that those terms reduce a person to that disorder. It strikes me that the only way around that is to phrase it as “person with dyslexia” or “person with autism”.
Quite honestly, I don’t think that’s the case. Although I’m not defined by my dyslexia, when I’m discussing the issue, I see no problem in saying “I’m dyslexic”. As far as I’m concerned, all I’m doing is simplifying the matter.
If I end up getting diagnosed with other things, like dysgraphia, for example, I’d have no problems saying “I’m dyslexic and dysgraphic” during the conversation.
When discussing gender, I tend to refer to myself simply as a woman. I have no need to lengthen it to “I’m an individual who was born with female genitalia and identifies as a woman”. I’m more than my gender identity and physical sex, but why specify everything that I am? Isn’t it obvious that I’m a person?
“Hi, I’m a person who was born in the United States of America with dyslexia and asthma, whose gender identity coincides with the body she was born in, with primarily European, but some Middle Eastern, descent who also happens to write, has an interest in the paranormal, Pagan beliefs, crafts, who is attracted primarily to men and can’t cook a decent meal without sending the smoke detector into a screaming fit of rage at some point in the process.”
I’m sure there’s a term for that last bit. Maybe “poor chef”?
Some Examples of Everyday Speech
However, I can see why the discussion is important. If you look at the language of insults, terms which were, and still are to some extent, learning disabled phobic litter it thoroughly. “Idiot”, “imbecile”, “dummy”, “moron” and “retard” are all terms denoting someone of low intelligence.
“Dummy” refers to the old terminology for someone who’s unable to speak, “dumb”. “Idiot”, “imbecile” and “moron” were all real medical terms for various levels of mental retardation. As we know “retard” is short for “retarded”, which is a modern diagnosis.
Most of those words are no longer in the mainstream medical vocabulary, because they had been adopted and relegated to petty insult status. Few people know their origins, and although it stings when they’re hurled, most of us don’t see our various diagnoses in them.
Language tends to evolve with society. These are all good examples of how slang has evolved over the years, and how individual words have changed their meanings.
It leads me to the two terms “learning disabilities” and “learning differences”. In some places, the two are sharply separated.
“Learning disabled” is reserved for people who show little to no capacity to learn past a certain level at all, while “learning differences” is reserved for people who simply need to soak information up in a different way than most people.
Do you see the difference? “Disabled” brings up alternate images to “different”. It’s a messy topic.
Why It’s Important
Although overuse of labels drives up right up the wall, words used by officials are very important. Recently, the DSM, the official reference of psychological terms, has been updated.
Asperger’s has been eliminated as a classification. Those who were diagnosed with it are now grouped under the general term Autistic Spectrum Disorder. They also wanted to group dyslexia under the general “Specific Learning Disabilities” category, but were dissuaded by a petition.
This is important because this text is influential in establishing educational and mental accommodation for all sorts of psychological categories.
In some cases, more help may be available to people with Asperger’s. In others, less help, or the wrong kind of help, becomes available. This may also make misdiagnosis even more of a problem, which can lead to serious issues.
This was done in an attempt to simplify a complicated issue. Perhaps it was also done with an eye towards an easier “one-fits-all” treatment plan that our medical and educational systems covet so dearly.
This also takes an entire group’s strength of identity away, and endangers not only their official treatment, but makes it more difficult to achieve much by way of social support.
Bear in mind that DSM addresses all psychological categories, like depression and forms of body dysphoria.
There’s also the social aspect. The movements to stop using “retard” and “retarded” as insults, the LGBTQ movements to do the same with the words “gay” and “tranny” along with other groups are all working to eliminate the foolish prejudices degrading them as people.
We’re All Equal
Quite honestly, all of this categorization, be it neurological, racial, gender identity or whatever else, sometimes has a way of further dehumanizing all of us. The issues need to be addressed, but I don’t think that concentrating exclusively on them is the way to do it.
What seems to get lost somewhere along the way is our basic status of “people”.
Of course we’re all different. Of course we all face struggles unique to our circumstances, but none of that makes any one person fundamentally better or worse than anyone else.
And that is the danger we face when we rely too heavily on what people “should” call themselves. When elitist thinking takes root in any group of individual, that does nothing more than create the social hierarchy that’s responsible for so many stigmas we already face.
In the end, whether I identify as “dyslexic” has absolutely no bearing on if you would rather be referred to as “a person with dyslexia”. Hey, I’ll respect your choices, but I expect you to return the favor.
That mutual respect is what really shows equality.
Mornings are a great unifier.